Land Acquisition Act

The government can buy private land for infrastructure development, urbanisation, or industrialization through a procedure known as land acquisition. In exchange, the government would give the landowner adequate compensation based on market value and be accountable for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the affected landowners.

The Land Acquisition Act of 2013 supervises and regulates the whole land acquisition process. The Act establishes a framework for delivering adequate compensation to landowners, increasing transparency in the system, and directing the government to rehabilitate people who have had their land taken away.

History of Land Acquisition in India

The land is a part of the physical environment required by all living organisms. Animals find their home in forest land, while land requirements for humans are gigantic. Humans need land for agriculture, housing and industrialisation.

It has become impossible to fulfil the land requirements with the escalating population. There’s a need to strike a balance for sustainable usage of land.

At the beginning of civilisation, when the land was the sole means of income, certain social groups administered and managed land distribution. They regulated the distribution of “Common Property Resources (CPRs)” and earned their livelihood through its management. Hence, it was the beginning of the generation of land rights.

With the advent of the British in India, land laws in India witnessed radical changes. They scrutinised the land ownerships by conducting surveys and introduced the concept of “Individual Ownership”. The properties that belonged to none belonged to State and hence, called “State’s Property”.

The British Government enacted various land acquisition acts to benefit the royal treasury to gain an impregnable hold on the land. They promulgated witty schemes to acquire the lands belonging to the people pursuant of fiscal settlements in the name of socio-economic development.

Therefore, Land Acquisition refers to the government’s authority (State or Central) to amass private lands for industrialisation, urbanisation and infrastructural needs by compensating the landowners.

Most talked over land acquisition acts are:

  1. Land Acquisition Act 1894
  2. Land Acquisition Act 2013
  3. Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act 2013

Evolution of Land Acquisition Acts in India

Land Acquisition Act 1894

Reliable infrastructure became necessary to facilitate trade. Therefore, East India Company enacted the first land acquisition enactment, namely, the Bengal Regulation Act of 1824.

The said Act addressed the following two concerns:

  • Possession of land for constructing roads, bridges and canals at “fair prices“.
  • Dealing with the issues concerning the requirement of land for salt manufacturers

Now, the institution of the railways made the acquisition of land necessary. The Bengal Regulation Act 1824 provision extended to the Calcutta Presidency for attaining easy possession of the land under a new enactment Act I of 1850.

Besides, the British Government promulgated specific provisions on land acquisition for railways, highways, tramways and others.

Soon, the act became insufficient to cover the growing need for land. Hence, a consolidated Land Acquisition Act 1894 came up. In addition to developmental purposes, the said act also facilitated land acquisition for governmental companies.

Since then, the Act of 1894 acted as the principal enactment for compulsory acquisition. But, the landmark judgement of Kesavanand Bharati vs State of Kerela highlighted the likelihood of the provisions of the said Act contradicting the Right to Property.

The 44th Amendment remedied the situation and upheld its validity based on public good and provision of adequate compensation.

However, after various amendments over a century, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 finally repealed the Act of 1894.

Land Acquisition Act 2013

To rectify the shortcomings of the previous act, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 or the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, replaced the Land Acquisition Act 1894.

The Act aimed to provide adequate compensation for rehabilitation and resettlement. Further, the act laid down an appropriate procedure for acquiring land after examining the Social Impact Assessment Report.

Some of the essential sections of the Act are:

  1. Section 2 of the Act classifies the acquisition of land into three categories:

    1.1. Possession of land by government for its or public usage

    1.2. Possession of land by the government for P PP projects and by private companies for public welfare.

    1.3. Possession of land by public companies through private mediations.

  2. Section 3 (za) defines the term ‘public purpose‘ as the activities undertaken under Section 2 (1) and further includes:

    2.1. Acquisition for military, paramilitary purposes aid in national defence and security.

    2.2. Acquisition for infrastructure, agriculture, industry, educational purposes, sports, tourism and transportation and other facilities

    2.3. Acquisition for relief development

    2.4. Acquisition for housing schemes

    2.5. Acquisition for developmental policies

    2.6. Acquisition for the housing of Displaced Persons.

  3. Section 4 talks about the Social Impact Assessment Study as an indispensable step undertaken before the acquisition of land by the government for public purposes.

    The report evaluates the social impact of the report in actuality. Authorities are bound to consult the concerned Panchayat of the affected area on the said matter. After a thorough assessment, the reports indicate high social impact, and the land may get acquired. Authorities are bound to consult the concerned Panchayat of the affected area on the said matter.

  4. Section 6 eliminates the preparation of the SIA report when the project to be undertaken is for irrigation purposes.
  5. Section 9 talks about the urgent acquisitions. The Act forgoes the assessment of social impact under Section 40 in the event of urgency.

Limitations Of Land Acquisition Act

  • Inappropriate calculation of the market rate
  • Absence of R&R policies for the temporarily acquired land
  • Ignorance of consent of affected families in the event of acquisition for PSUs
  • The objection of State Government on possession of agricultural land
  • Certain enactments of importance get exempted from its purview

Difference between Land Acquisition Act 1894 and 2013

The failure of the 1894 Act led to the formation of 2013. The differences between the two includes:

  • The Act of 2013 provides a clear and precise definition of the term ‘public purpose‘, whereas under the Act 1894 government excised discretionary powers while defining it.
  • Act of 2013 emphasis the preparation of the Social Impact report and then decides on the possession. Act of 1894 created no room for any such provision report, and hence, the land could get acquired against the will of the affected public.
  • Due consideration gets paid to the people’s opinions integral to the land under the Act of 2013. On the contrary, the Act of 1894 considered no such opinion.
  • Another significant difference is the payment of compensation. Under the Act of 1894, compensation would be the evaluated market value of the land whereas, the Act of 2013 is generous. It pays the market rate as compensation in the urban areas and doubles the market rate in rural areas.
  • The compensation for emotional loss was only 30% under the acquisition act of 1894, while the Act of 2013 compensates up to 100% for the emotional loss.
  • Under the Act of 1894, the authorities would never return the unused land to the real owners, while the Act of 2013 made it mandatory to return such land within five years from the date of possession.
  • Act of 1894 made no provision for R&R while laid compulsory provisions.
  • The urgency clause found no place in the act of 1894. Act of 2013 created the urgency clause.

Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill 2015

The deceptive and bogus land act of 1894 exploited the affected people to large extents. To safeguard their interest, the Congress Party enacted the Land Act of 2013.

The Opposition perceived the said act as unrealistic and far-fetched. Therefore, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act 2015 are significant amendments to the Act of 2013. The harsh amendments raised massive protests and hence was called ‘Anti-Farmer‘.

The Act called out for following amendments:

Prior Consent and SIA Report

The amendment named the five sectors where, while acquiring the land, prior consent of affected families and the preparation of SIA report gets exempted. These sectors are:

  1. National security and Defence
  2. Rural Infrastructure including electrification
  3. Industrial Corridors
  4. Affordable housing and housing for the poor
  5. Infrastructure and social infrastructure projects, including PPP projects where ownership of land continues to be vested with the government

Acquisition of Agricultural Land

The amendment exposed the fertile agricultural land to be acquired effortlessly. The particular provision made the farmers vulnerable as it rendered them incapable of protecting their lands from the sharp claws of industrialists. Hence, the amendment got claimed to be ‘Anti-farmer‘.

Replacement of ‘Private Company’

To widen the scope of acquisition by the private bodies, the amendment replaces the term ‘Private Company’ with ‘Private Entity’, enabling the partnerships concerns, sole proprietors, societies, trusts and others to acquire the land, which was not possible in the previous acts.

Treatment of unused land

Act of 2013 obligated the return of land if not used for five years. However, the amendment does away with this provision. It claims that if the stipulated time for setting up any project exceeds five years, then such stipulated time must get considered. Further, it provided no cap on how long the stipulated time could be.

Different Types of Land Laws in India

  • Indian Tramways Act, 1886
  • Damodar Valley Corporation Act, 1948
  • National Highway Act, 1956
  • Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act, 1957
  • Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Rights of User of Land) Act, 1962
  • The Land Ports Authority of India Act, 2010
  • Railways Act, 1989

Transfer of Property Act

The Act concerns itself with the transfer of property laws in India. The canons of transfer of property get contained in the transfer of property bare act.

The Act gets restricted to the transfer of immovable property by the parties through sale, exchange, gift, actionable claim, mortgage and lease. It has nothing to do with the transfer of property by the operation of law. Therefore, it only deals with the transmission between the living and immovable property.

Case Study Involving Land Acquisition Act

Tehri Dam is one of the most controversial hydroelectric projects. It got proposed to be built on the Bhagirathi River, the main tributary of river Ganga. Approximately, the government acquired the area of the entire Tehri town and 112 villages for it. Estimated, the land of around 100,000 people submerged for the success of the said project.


  • Installed capacity of 2000MW
  • Irrigation to 270000 hectares of land
  • 270 million gallons of water


  • Categorised as Rural and Urban Rehabilitation
  • Further classifying as ‘Fully affected’ & “Partially affected.”
  • Cash for the rural families not displaced but with submerged lands.


‘Hanumantha Rao Committee’ was set up to look into the matter. It made the following claims:

  • Six corruption cases were filed against the high authorities
  • Embezzlement of public funds.
  • Indication of corruption in rehabilitation schemes.


Every basic need of humans is associated with the land. The limited land area leads to a challenging situation where decision making becomes difficult. The land requirements for industrialisation is as much essential as it is for urbanisation. Hence, while taking such decisions, the authorities must thoroughly study the situation to apply its judicial mind.

Even though people can own their private property, the government could repurchase the property for the greater good. It is known as Land Acquisition. Over the years, a couple of acts were enacted to regulate the procedure of land acquisition.

The acts introduced so far haven’t proved to be successful. The prejudice often hampers the formulation of the sustainable land act. But, it is a must to perceive the interest of displaced people as the primary concern and formulate the policies accordingly.

Since Independence, a series of laws in the said regard got promulgated, but each time a project of importance is undertaken, protests arise. Hence, highlighting the loopholes in the system and insufficiency of the provisions so formulated.

FAQs on Land Acquisition Act

Can an individual own private property in India?

Yes, Article 300 A safeguards their interest.

Is it possible for the government to acquire land from the public?

The Land Acquisition Acts empower the government to do so.

What is the primary concern of the Land Acquisition Act?

To compensate the displaced families.

Which is the most controversial land acquisition project?

Sardar Sarovar Dam, commonly known as Narmada Dam Controversy, is the most controversial land acquisition project.

Is the SIA report beneficial?

Yes, the SIA report evaluates the social impact of a project. Therefore, it acts as a deciding factor.

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